You Don't Need More Self-Control!

Learn what will really empower you over food

Woman with fork in her hand with food. Unsplash: Helena Lopes

In 99% of cases, women come to me telling me how weak and powerless they feel about food. The words control or self-control are always present in their speeches. Some substitute for willpower, but in general their feeling is that they lack more self-control in order to eat better, eliminate excesses, and thus lose weight.

One simple word that can change everything.

And I understand them because I’ve already felt that there was something profoundly wrong with my “self control cells” — some dysfunction that I was sure thin people didn’t have.

To make it worse, I grew up hearing that, fat people were fat because they had a lack of self control, lack of willpower, and discipline. So I remember myself literally praying to be strong enough to control myself at social events or buffet restaurants. And not have those feelings of guilt if I dove into the buffet food and indulged in the comfort food rather than the healthy foods. The stress that would come about at buffet restaurants because of the food rules that I used to give myself because it’s what diet culture taught us. That if you ate to a point of discomfort it meant that you lacked that self control.

Throughout my journey, I learned that there is a huge misunderstanding about the relationship between self control and food, which is:

Self control is just the opposite of what I needed.

See, if you want to lose weight, you’re looking to get rid of fat storage, right?

I would like you to close your fist as if trying to hold something very tightly. Does this feeling of clenched fist somehow bring you the feeling of freedom?

To lose weight you need to let go and release it. This is the opposite of holding onto or controlling something.

The more strength you control yourself, the less likely you are to release weight because they are opposite forces.

Besides that, I don’t believe that anyone wants to spend their lives controlling themselves so as not to cheat their diet — although, unfortunately, many people do. A much better scenario is to lose weight sustainably, being able to eat with pleasure and moderation. This is all about freedom, not self control. It’s about having a positive relationship with food and being able to have a healthy relationship with how you approach even your favorite foods.

Plate with pizza french fries and chicken fingers.

Reframing self-control

If that still sounds like nonsense to you, I have a simple exercise to help you out. Think about what you would eat if tomorrow you suddenly had no more rules to eat. Not even one. Nada. If you woke up 100% free to eat whatever you want, whenever you want, and the amount you want.

If you’ve imagined yourself having chicken wings for lunch and pizza and chocolate cake for dinner, you’re like most people, don’t be alarmed.

Now think of a second scenario, where you would spend your day with a child you care very much for and needed to feed him or her. What would you give them to eat?

If they asked you for a third slice of pizza, would you deny it because you’re bad? Or because you want the best for them and know they have eaten enough? If they asked you for ice cream before dinner, would you say no because you’re cruel and you want them to suffer? Or because you know their body needs the nutrients from the vegetables and fresh fruit you had planned, and you don’t want them to lose their appetite or energy levels?

Of course, you would give them their favorite treats eventually, but you would hardly base their eating on fast food and sugar-filled breakfast cereals. You would do your best to make sure they ate enough food for their optimal development and well-being. Does that make sense?

Now compare your answers to the first and second cases.

A home cooked meal being prepared

See… You don’t lack the self control to eat better (or less). You lack self-care.

Self-care to ensure the best functioning of your body, this unique and irreplaceable machine you have.

The first step is to realize that adjusting your food choices to ensure your well-being is an act of love, not imposition or less control. Understanding that your change in eating habits reflects your intuitive eating habits. Realize that adding more nutrients to your daily life is loving yourself, that eating when hungry, listening to your hunger cues, and respecting satiety is loving yourself. Not clogging yourself up with (any) food is loving yourself. That movement is an act of love for your body.

New things take time to adjust to, and changing your mindset and giving yourself full permission to have a healthier relationship with food is the only way to put aside the thoughts of needing to have better self-control around food.

It is changing the perspective of weight loss at any cost for wellness above everything. This is the most important thing I have learned in my journey.

Thus, a weight-loss goal is no longer the goal of the process, it is a happy consequence.

Last Updated: May 16, 2024

I am a Brazilian girl (living in Sao Paulo with my fiancé — and other 20 million people). I love coffee, books, and good food. I also really enjoy studying and learning new things that allow me to further develop myself both professionally and personally. I have a degree in Food Science and hold a Ph.D. in Agri-food Marketing. In addition, I am a Certified Nutrition Coach and an enthusiastic Nutrition student.

After 15 years of living in war with my body and with food, I found freedom through mindfulness and intuitive eating, practices that allowed me to overcome yo-yo dieting and binge eating.

I’m passionate about helping women rewrite their food and body histories so they feel free and confident to live their lives to the fullest.

There is a power that comes alive when women free themselves from the food prison in which they have learned to live, when they realize that they are capable and deserving of feeling fantastic in their own bodies, and that confidence is a state of mind — not a body lotion which you get the right to use when you reach a weight-loss goal.

My work is dedicated to nurturing, celebrating and sharing this message.

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